City Councilman Trevor Ozawa was in favor of having either a tent city or a public shower for the homeless in his East Honolulu to Waikiki district, but after hearing from constituents he’s had a change of heart.
“(I) got a lot of feedback from the community, especially several neighborhood board members in Waikiki who were absolutely against it,” Ozawa said last week following a Waikiki Neighborhood Board meeting.
Even though he said others backed the idea, Ozawa said now is not the time.
“I think that a hygiene center in Waikiki one day will be appropriate. As far as being the first ‘urban rest stop’ in Honolulu, I don’t think Waikiki is ready for it right now. … Maybe the third or fourth or fifth one would be helpful to the community in Waikiki at that time. It shouldn’t be the first one.”
Ozawa, Council Chairman Ernie Martin and Councilman Joey Manahan last month endorsed Seattle- style public showers and tent cities across Oahu to augment the city’s Hale Mauliola community on Sand Island, where formerly homeless clients live in converted shipping containers and get on-site social service help.
Although Ozawa no longer supports having facilities in his district, Martin said last week that he still plans to be the first of nine Council members to embrace either a city-sanctioned tent city — he prefers the term “temporary encampment” — or a so-called “hygiene center” or “urban rest stop” for homeless people in his district, which encompasses 40 percent of the island from Mililani Mauka to Kahaluu.
“That’s my goal, man,” Martin said. “They better race me to it. You’ve got to lead by example. It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and pass judgment. You’ve gotta be willing to get your hands dirty.”
The hygiene centers are intended to offer multiple showers, toilets, sinks, washers and dryers and, perhaps more importantly, social service help getting homeless people jobs and long-term housing through a concept known as a “navigation center,” Martin said.
For businesses and frustrated neighbors, the hygiene centers also are intended to help keep sidewalks and storefronts clear of human urine and feces while giving homeless people a sense of dignity.
Like the hygiene centers, Martin’s idea for a tent city also would be based on the model of a Seattle nonprofit group that uses a mix of camping tents and 120-square-foot “tiny houses” that are supposed to rotate to different locations every few years.
Seattle’s Low Income Housing Institute opened its latest urban rest stop at a cost of $1.5 million.
Martin previously identified potential locations for underused city property, such as the ground floor of Chinatown’s Gateway Plaza or the Hauula Civic Center, which he expects would bring costs down.
Martin still has not found a good location for a potential tent city in his district, but he is now talking to Kahuku Medical Center about possibly hosting a hygiene center.
The facility would be located inside, or perhaps on an acre of adjacent city land, said the medical center’s CEO, Stephany Vaioleti.
“Yes, we have expressed interest,” Vaioleti said. “It’s a community issue. A lot of homeless come through our facility.”
It’s difficult for doctors to discharge homeless patients knowing they may be at greater risk of assaults and crime in their weakened state, Vaioleti said.
“All the hospitals struggle with that,” she said. “The person is still at risk for harm and just doesn’t have those basic needs being met. Health care has to perhaps expand its role.”
Martin also has his eye on a vacant building in his district, off Kamehameha Highway in Wahiawa, close to the nonprofit Surfing the Nations organization that is offering help and bathrooms to homeless people.
“It’s in an excellent location,” Martin said. “We’re going to do our due diligence to identify the owners and gauge their interest in allowing the city to acquire and utilize the property for a potential hygiene navigation center.”
Martin, Ozawa and Manahan all have criticized the city’s only version of a hygiene center on North Pauahi Street next to the city’s Pauahi Hale low-income housing complex.
The city renovated the separate men’s and women’s showers and toilets last year at a cost of $120,000.
The Council members say it’s dirty, small and uninviting — a characterization that Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration disputes.
But the Chinatown shower facility does not offer washers and dryers or on-site social service help that Martin and Manahan hope to duplicate in their districts using the Seattle model.
Manahan also wants both a tent city and a hygiene center in his district, possibly in Kalihi, Iwilei or Mapunapuna. And he wants them to be as close together as reasonable so homeless people can take advantage of both facilities.
“I’m very much in favor of both,” Manahan said. “Let’s do it and let’s do it right.”
Caldwell’s staff has consulted Manahan to discuss possible locations for a hygiene center, a gesture that Manahan said he appreciated.
The staff members told Manahan they are in negotiations over buying a potential location in his district but could not be specific because a deal has not been reached.
“They really wanted to do a hygiene center,” Manahan said. “I thought it was very positive and I’m going to be very supportive.”
He hopes it can accommodate 60 to 100 showers for homeless people per day, along with laundry facilities and social service help.
Unlike Ozawa, Manahan said he’s received “no push back. It’s better than what we’re experiencing now, trust me.”
The bigger issue may be finding a location for a tent city — or “temporary encampment” — in Manahan’s district that he hopes could house 30 to 40 people.
“We have to find some open space,” Manahan said.
Martin understands why some neighbors in Ozawa’s district from East Honolulu through Waikiki don’t want either a tent city or a hygiene center.
Waikiki, in particular, is “a key tourism site,” Martin said.
But he said his district needs help. And Martin said he believes that tent cities and hygiene centers are part of the solution.
“For my district,” Martin said, “it’s full steam ahead.”